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Nuclear gong, loud and clear

New Delhi, May 17: India is prepared for “the broadest possible engagement” with the international non-proliferation regime provided its interests are safeguarded, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here today.

New Delhi is being urged by Washington to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Singh’s elucidation of the Indian standpoint is a justification of India’s position.

The Prime Minister was speaking to military scientists and heads of military establishments after giving away awards to scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

“In the defence field and the nuclear field, our strategic programmes are indigenous and not dependent on external sources of support. Nor can they be subject to externally imposed constraints,” he said.

“Our message to the international community is, therefore, loud and clear ' India is willing to shoulder its share of international obligation as a partner against proliferation provided our legitimate interests are safeguarded.”

Earlier, the DRDO head and the scientific adviser to the defence minister, M. Natarajan, said India was preparing to testfire the long-range (possibly 3,000 km) strategic Agni III missile this year. But at least twice in the past DRDO heads have announced the intentions to testfire Agni III but the plans did not fructify.

The Prime Minister said the government had only last week demonstrated its commitment to non-proliferation. Parliament had passed the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Bill. He said the bill compares favourably with the best global standards on non-proliferation.

Global and American concerns over proliferation of WMD have been heightened since last year following the disclosure that Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan traded in sensitive material.

“India will not be, and I repeat, will not be a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies. We will adopt the most stringent measures to safeguard and secure the technologies that we possess, or those that we acquire through international collaboration,” Singh said.

He said India was seeking to maintain a credible defence posture and at the same time make peace with neighbours.

“We have no desire to engage in any arms race, as that would divert vitally needed resources away from the basic developmental purpose.”

Singh said he was concerned that delays in implementation of defence projects could impact military preparedness.

“We can ill-afford continued delays in project implementation, both in terms of impact time and cost overruns. Delays not only affect the national exchequer, they can also seriously undermine the confidence of the defence services if a weapon system is practically obsolete by the time of its induction.”

This was an indirect reference to the tardy acceptance and development of several DRDO projects that have fallen behind the timeline for a combination of reasons, from sanctions to faulty planning.

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